Human & Cultural Geography: Definition, Characteristics & Studies

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  • 0:04 Geography
  • 0:38 Cultural Geography
  • 2:03 Topics Studied
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Humans don't exist in a vacuum. We live with other humans, and we live in a specific environment. In this lesson, we'll examine human & cultural geography, including what it is, and what types of topics are studied in the field.


Imagine two people who live in very different places. Rishi lives in a community in the desert, while Lin lives on a small, lush island. How do you think their lives are different?

Geography is the study of the earth and the people in it. The word geography literally means 'earth writing,' and that is what many geographers do: they write about the earth, and how people change the earth, and how the earth changes people.

Let's look closer at one type of geography: human and cultural geography, and some of the main topics that are studied in that area.

Cultural Geography

Remember that Rishi lives in the desert, while Lin lives on an island. The ways they are raised and the things they do are very different.

Culture is the collection of behaviors and traditions of a group of people. For example, in some cultures it is customary for a bride to wear white on her wedding day, while in other cultures, a bride wears red. Cultural geography involves studying how the physical environment interacts with the traditions of people.

To understand cultural geography, let's go back to Rishi and Lin for a moment. Rishi lives in the desert. Many of her culture's foods involve camel meat or milk. Lin, though, lives on an island. There aren't any camels around, so it's not traditional for her people to eat camel meat or drink camel milk. Instead, their dishes have lots of fish in them. After all, they are surrounded by water with fish in it!

It would be pretty crazy for Rishi's desert culture to have fish as a main feature in many meals, since there aren't any big sources of water and fish around. But for Lin's island culture, fish is a logical thing for them to eat. Meanwhile, because there are many camels in the desert, it makes sense that Rishi's cultural dishes feature camel meat and milk. The geography of where the people live has affected their cultural practices regarding food.

Topics Studied

As we've seen, where people live and their traditions are closely related. This is a core concept when it comes to cultural geography. But what, exactly, do cultural geographers study? There are many, many topics that can be researched in cultural geography. Among the more popular topics are:

1. Globalization - Thanks to technology, cultures are coming together in new and interesting ways. People can more freely move around the globe and they can communicate with others from far away. The study of globalization looks at these trends. For example, Rishi and Lin both went off to the same college, far away from both of their homes. They live together and are influencing each other's cooking. Rishi eats more fish now and Lin has learned to use camel's milk and some of the spices that are traditional in Rishi's culture.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Human and Cultural Geography:

Essay Prompt 1:

In a paragraph, explain what geography is and what geographers study.

Example: Consider that the word "geography" literally means "earth writing."

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay of at least several paragraphs that explains the concept of cultural geography and provides examples of it.

Example: You could describe how people who live in the mountains enjoy skiing during the winter as one of their most popular pastimes.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Make a chart or other type of graphic organizer that lists and describes the most popular topics that can be studied as part of cultural geography.

Tip: A spreadsheet may work best here.

Writing Prompt 1:

Take several pages to write about which sub-topic of cultural geography (globalization; language, art, and communication; religion; or economic and government structure) you would most like to study and why. Provide examples of how your research could be applied.

Example: If you choose the economic and government structure sub-topic, you could write that fishing and shipping are the two main industries in a geographical area that contains a lot of large lakes or borders an ocean. This would allow you to demonstrate how geography influences a region's economy. Then you could discuss the kinds of government regulations that are placed on usage of the region's lakes or on the fishing and shipping industries themselves to illustrate how geography has shaped the government structure.

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